There has been a lot of commentary on the press conference held by the Jean Mensah-led Re-election Commission since it was held on Thursday 17th August 2023. My intention is not just to add one to their number but to present a point of view as an expert in biometric technology and mass registration exercise and secondly to expose the misinformation that has been spewed.
Although the EC constantly gives anyone who doesn’t want to be a spectator course to speak up, some of us will not get tired exposing their incompetence and wicked intentions. Just like in the recent past, the EC is still taking the nation on a slippery slope. I recall that since 2020, the EC has not carried out any exercise to register new eligible voters.
That means, Ghanaians in the 18-21 years bracket have not had the opportunity of getting their names on the voters register. One can imagine the sigh of relief these young men and women had when the EC finally announced the registration exercise. Unfortunately, most of these potential voters stand the risk of being disenfranchised if the EC is not called to order.
According to the EC’s modalities, the registration exercise; “will take place in all the 268 District Offices of the Commission including the Guan District. In other words, each District Office will serve as a Registration Center”.
This means eligible Ghanaians living far and near the Constituency/District capitals where the District offices are located, will have to travel from their place of abode to the Constituency/District Capital before they can register.
A quick scan through the non-urban constituencies in Ghana indicates that there are several places within the constituencies where eligible registrants will have to pay in excess of Fifty Ghana Cedis (GHS 50) in and out by means of transportation to get to the Constituency/District Capitals before they can register. Let me highlight on the transportation burden on such eligible registrants in some specific constituencies: Take the case of farmer Karim who lives in Bamboi in the Bole/Bamboi District. Karim will have to travel two and half hours to Bole and another two and half hours back at the cost of Eighty Ghana Cedis (GHS 80) in order to register per the EC’s modalities. If Karim does not have a Ghanacard, then per the NIA’s performance, he will have to make this trip several times first to get his Ghana Card and finally travel again for the EC registration. Oh wait, there is another option for Karim if he has no Ghana Card. He will have to bare the transportation cost of two guarantors in addition to his, a total cost of Two Hundred and Forty Ghana Cedis (GHS 240) just to get registered.
This is the story for many other places, hence the disenfranchisement will be widespread if the EC is allowed to go on the path it has decided. For instance, the Afram Plains has the largest land mass in the Eastern Region with 2,341.3 square kilometers. Out of the 31 electoral areas and 127 polling stations, 13 electoral areas and 54 polling stations are located on various islands.
Owing to how the topography of the constituency is, constituents are compelled to rely on boats, canoes and ferries as the only reliable means of transport. To this end, one has to travel several kilometers and long hours on water and commute by road to Donkorkrom to access the district capital at the cost of over a Hundred Ghana Cedis per person and over Three Hundred Ghana Cedis if guarantors are to be transported. This journey cannot be done in a day so accommodation will have to be arranged for the eligible registrant and his/her guarantors.
EC’S NEW UNCONSTITUTIONAL ELIGIBILITY CRITERIA
The 1992 Constitution of Ghana states in Article 42 RIGHT TO VOTE as follows;
“Every citizen of Ghana of eighteen years of age or above and of sound mind has the right to vote and is entitled to be registered as a voter for the purposes of public elections and referenda”.
The eligibility criteria to register and vote is therefore set per Article 42 as follows; To be eligible to register and vote you must;
- be a Ghanaian
- be 18 years and above and
- be of sound mind
However, per the modalities set by the EC for the Limited Registration, If you live in Afram Plains, eligibility to register and vote is being amended as follows; To be eligible to register and vote you must;
- be a Ghanaian
- be 18 years and above and
- be of sound mind
- be able to afford over GHS 100 transportation cost for yourself
- be able to afford over GHS 200 transportation cost for your two guarantors
- be able to afford overnight stay for yourself and your guarantors
Okay folks, this is common sense. The fact that the EC does not see this as an unsurmountable roadblock for eligible Ghanaians to register and vote as guaranteed under Article 42 of the 1992 constitution is shocking. How many farmers, carpenters, teachers etc will be able to meet the additional three conditions the Electoral Commission is imposing on them? My emphasis!
THE HYPOCRISY OF THE NPP
During the first 2 years of the Mills-Mahama administration, the Danquah Institute organized a workshop on the need to introduce biometric and electronic voting in our electoral process. The NIA presented a biometric system that was handed over by the Kufuor administration and proposed the way forward. The New Patriotic Party made a bizarre claim that the NDC was trying to charge Ghanaians for the cards although in building the system, President Kufour intended the cards to be free. At a point they quoted that Ghanaians would be required to pay GHS5 and at another point they claimed GHS10 would be collected from citizens before issuing them with the Ghanacard.
As a former staff and Chief Executive of the Authority, I wish to state categorically that there was no such intention to charge for the Ghanacard at any point. Interestingly, the reasons the NPP gave for their disagreement to any form of charge or cost to attaining the card is still relevant today. They held the view that the card was multi-functional and would be mandated for use in several services including elections. They thus indicated with emphasis that any Ghanaian who could not afford to buy the card for GHS5 or GHS10 would be disenfranchised. Hence, any attempt to charge for the Ghanacard was offensive to Article 42 of the 1992 constitution. As indicated supra, this provision confers on every Ghanaian who is 18 years and above and of sound mind the right to register and vote.
I am therefore amazed at the silence of the NPP when citizens of this country are being asked to transport themselves from various parts of the country to the EC district offices at the cost of GHS100/person in some cases. The smaller parties who until now have virtually supported the NPP to cheer the EC over the years have even kicked against EC’s current decision. They have all joined the NDC to condemn this move. They recognize that the EC will not achieve the inclusiveness that the continuous registration exercise is supposed to promote.
HOW DID JEAN MENSAH’S PREDECESSORS DO THIS?
I have selected for comparison five registration exercises since 2012 when the Biometric Registration System was introduced in Ghana. The table below presents a summary of all five selected mass/limited biometric registration exercises, two under the leadership of Dr. Afari-Gyan, one under the leadership of Dr. Charlotte Osei and the last two under the leadership of Dr. Jean Mensah.
Dr. Kojo Afari Djan embarked on mass/limited registration of eligible voters twice using biometric technology. He organized a nationwide mass registration of voters between March 24 to May 5, 2012 where he projected to enroll 14 million registrable voters using 6000 centers across the country. In all 14,158,890 voters were provisionally registered. After data processing and biometric de-duplication 13,724,370 distinct records remained on the register representing 98.03% of projected enrollments. It is important to note that the projected enrollment figure of 14 million registrable voters were obtained professionally from statistical service.
Dr. Kojo Afari Djan again from 4th to 13th August 2014 embarked on a limited registration exercise which took place at 6,000 centers across the country. The objective was to enable persons who could not register during the 2012 mass registration exercise and those who turned 18 years after 2012 to register before the District Assembly Elections which was eventually held in 2015. 857,177 registrants were registered representing 85.72% out of the projected 1 million registrants to be registered. The projected enrollment figure of 1 million registrable voters were obtained professionally from statistical service.
Dr. Charlotte Osei, from 28th April to 8th May 2016 embarked on a limited registration exercise which took place at 6,000 centers across the country. The objective was to enable persons who could not register during previous registration exercises and those who turned 18 years after the last registration exercise to register before the 2016 General Elections. 1,069,365 registrants were registered representing 89.11% out of the projected 1.2 million registrants to be registered. The projected enrollment figure of 1.2 million registrable voters were obtained professionally from statistical service.
JUXTAPOSING WITH DR. JEAN MENSAH’S MEDIOCRE PERFORMANCE
Dr. Jean Mensah, before the referendum which covered 47 districts, embarked on a limited registration exercise targeting just the 47 districts. The objective was to enable persons who could not register during previous registration exercises and those who turned 18 years after the last registration exercise to register before the referendum to create the new regions. Instead of obtaining projected registrable population from Ghana Statistical Service like her predecessors, Dr. Jean Mensah set for herself a very low target of 100,000 projected registrable population in the 47 districts. She insisted against wise council that the exercise “will take place in all the 47 District Offices of the Commission. In other words, each District Office will serve as a Registration Center”. The NDC cautioned her to no avail that registering only in the district centers will disenfranchise eligible registrants. At the end of the exercise, she was able to register only 47% of her low target of 100,000. In other words, she set for herself an extremely low target and failed to register half of the target. 47% is an F grade in any school in this country. You will think such an abysmal performer will learn from her mistakes and do everything to avoid another disaster right? Not Dr. Jean Mensah. She has proposed to register this time the whole country using the same modalities. Shocking right?
Dr. Jean Mensah again from 17th June to 7th July 2019 embarked on a limited registration exercise which she initially announced would take place at the EC’s District Offices throughout the country using the VMS (online) system. She first mentioned a projected registrable population of 300,000. A figure the NDC cautioned was too small as our internal checks with Ghana Statistical Service revealed a registrable population of 1.7 million. She later adjusted it to 500,000 and subsequently announced 700,000 at a press conference 2 days after the registration exercise had started. Secondly the NDC indicated that the VMS system (Online system) which were already fixed in the District offices of the EC throughout the country, were not designed for mass registration and for which reason any attempt to deploy them for that purpose would generate functionality challenges. This advice was also flatly ignored by Dr. Jean Mensah. At the end of the registration, the EC had registered 1.2 million registrants, 400% more than their initial projection of 300,000. Interestingly, the Dr. Jean Mensah’s EC said it was the effective PR campaign that brought out the numbers. Really? We all know PR campaign cannot make a person turn 18 years when they are not. They registrants existed but she failed the make the right projection, period. The aspect of the eventual outcome that should have humbled Dr. Jean Mensah was the fact that there was mass failure of the VMS (online) system nationwide. It was this same system the NDC had cautioned was not meant for mass registration. The VMS eventually registered just 7% of the 1.2 million voters that were eventually registered while the offline system which the NDC proposed and which Dr. Jean Mensah reluctantly accepted, registered as much as 93%.
Here we are again, Dr. Jean Mensah and her EC are determined to once more turn a deaf ear to wise counsel. It beats the minds of many Ghanaians what the EC stands to gain by disenfranchising Ghanaians in a nationwide exercise. This is what they would typically have done in the NDC strongholds. Why are most Ghanaians, especially Civil Society Organizations silent and sitting on the fence? I call on all well-meaning Ghanaians to stand up against this insensitive and incompetent actions coming from the EC. Jean Mensah must be called to order NOW!
Osei Kwame Griffiths is the former Executive Secretary of NIA
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